I’m a doula—a woman who nurtures other women during pregnancy, pregnancy loss, labor, delivery, and all the transformations after birth that sometimes feel like magic, but other times just feel like poop. A lot of poop. So, it seems appropriate to me that I feel very drawn this time of year to the idea of Mary, in labor, looking for a safe place to give birth to baby Jesus. Except, there were no ultrasounds, so we didn’t know it was Jesus and she was rather adamant that the father was God. Let’s be honest here, there was a lot of Mary’s story that was unlikely to be believed by most. I imagine that Mary was making some noise and no one wanted her in their hotel—this single Mom in labor accompanied by some guy who wasn’t even the father and likely to be releasing all kinds of mucus, blood, and groans long into the night. Let’s face it, Mary was a hot mess. She was going to keep other guests awake and it’s not like they could just allow her to sit in the lobby because she was, uhmmm, having a baby! In my heart though, while I wish so much when I think of this narrative that someone would have given Mary and Joseph a warm and safe place to welcome their baby, it’s not Mary and Joseph that I feel grief for. The real sadness in this story are all the people that rejected the potential of being a part of the miracle of the birth of Jesus. This laboring woman made them uncomfortable and the owners of the hostels used logic to reject the miracle. We have no space. We are not able to accommodate you. We have other guests that were here first. In the story, the people who got creative were the people that had the least amount of resources to work with. Can you imagine the profound faith that gave Joseph the courage to stay by Mary, to help her labor and deliver her baby, while all the while knowing that he was not the father? In this story, Joseph said yes to the miracle. Never mind Mary who allowed her body to be the vehicle for the birth of Christ! It just doesn’t get any more courageous than THAT!
We all say no to potential miracles each and every day. I’m not a hypocrite. I’ll be honest that I get uncomfortable. I get really scared and I can feel myself fade away and then I get very logical about all the “reasons” why I can’t be open to whatever it is that has challenged me. As soon as I start making mental lists of “reasons”, that’s when I know that I have closed a door on something that may have been the best thing that ever happened to me. Some of you who know me know that I also say “yes” to things. I say yes to a lot of things. This has, on a number of occasions, gotten me into some hot water. But, on many more occasions, it has changed the trajectory of my life in the most beautiful and fantastic ways. The week of Freshman orientation at Penn, I was assigned to a nuclear arms specialist, Dr. Deudney, as my initial advisor. He had never met me before and I would have never picked a nuclear arms specialist as my advisor, so we were even. He looked at my schedule and saw that I was taking Level 1 French. He said, “Have you ever taken French before?”. I nodded my little hung over noggin and explained that I had taken French in both middle school and high school. He replied, “And you still don’t know any French?”. I replied, “No, after seven years of French classes, I tested into level one French.” He said, “Well, you know, if you ever really needed to know French, you could learn it in a month, but right now is the last four-years of your life that you will ever have to just focus on something and I suggest you focus on learning an Asian language.” Just typing this gives me CHILLS! I had no intention of studying an Asian language. None. At. All. He made the suggestion, looked at the class guide and said, “Chinese works with your other classes.” And, I said, “YES! I’ll sign up for Chinese.” I had no reason to believe I could learn Chinese and, just a mere five minutes prior to this stranger making the suggestion, I wasn’t going to be learning Chinese. Then, my life changed. My life changed because I said YES to the suggestion of a nuclear arms specialist. What has followed has been the most soul-full adventure that I would not trade for anything. Without Dr. Deudney, I would not have purchased a Shanghai Flyer bicycle in Beijing, or met and fallen in love with Mike while dancing at the Kunlun Hotel to The Cure, or spent the night talking with Rick along the waterfront on Shamian Island, or met my lifetime soul friend Clara who was the best friend I ever had for everything from jumping fences to drinking caipirinha’s in New York at the Coffee Shop while flirting with Germans (They WERE German….right?).
This isn’t a post about all the wonderful things that happened in my life, or the handful of really difficult things, that happened because I said “yes” to what turned out to be some excellent advice from a stranger. This is about encouraging us at this time of year to think about how much we say “no” to. It’s a perfect time to think not just about the light and hope that comes from remembering the miracles of this season, but also holding some compassion for the darkness of the season—for all the people who said no to Mary and Joseph and, in doing so, also said no to hosting the miracle of the birth of a savior. They didn’t STOP the miracle from taking place, but they turned their hearts closed to the potential of being a PART of the miracle. In what ways are you, dear reader, rejecting miracles due to discomfort, fear, or a list of logic that even Judge Judy couldn’t argue with?
A little less than a month ago, I received an email from my landlord in which she informed me that all but one of the other tenants in the building that I live in had complained about noise that my children and I make in the building. She asked us to leave. She said that she didn’t want people with our “lifestyle” (i.e. single mother with two children kind of lifestyle) in her building. She said that she didn’t want people like us ruining her relationship with “good tenants” and possibly causing her to lose these “good tenants”. The “good” (i.e. adult) tenants of my building were frustrated with the sound of my children’s feet on the stairs. Not only that, but the tenants of my building didn’t like my “yelling”. My “yelling” is me asking my kids to put away their iPads, to come to eat dinner, to do their homework, to take baths….but the walls are thin and my neighbors, apparently, could hear me. Hearing us, it seems, was not tolerable to my neighbors who felt entitled to using the space as they wished and they had no desire for the sounds of children or families. I’m no Virgin Mary, but I pretty much got turned away from the inn. I know, your blood is boiling when you read this because you know that it isn’t legal to discriminate in housing against single moms with young children. Maybe you know and care about me and my children, so you feel sad or even concerned for us? Maybe you don’t know us at all, but you are a regular reader of my blog and you feel a sadness knowing that this type of thing happens every day to women all over the United States. We are going to leave. I’m lucky because I was able to secure housing with family where we will not be so easily dismissed or rejected. But, what about my neighbors? For them, of course, there is no guarantee that the new tenant will be silent. I assure you that my neighbors are not silent. I hear their dog barking, kitten crying and scratching at the wall and door, the podcasts, movies, dinner parties, coming and going at all hours of the night, their sex, their middle of the night showers after their sex, their fans and air conditioners, their conversations and their snoring. Yes, the SNORING. I was woken up one night by your SNORING. Did I call the landlord and suggest that you were not respectful because I was woken out of a perfectly good sleep because of your snoring? No, no I did not. And, I’m not the Dalai Lama, so, yes, yes I’m angry. But, at the same time, there is a missed miracle here. Imagine if any of my neighbors had heard my children coming down the stairs to catch the school bus and instead of seething in anger over the sounds of their little feet on the stairs, opened their doors and said, “Have a great day kiddos!”. What would have happened if they had a cookie or a kind word for us when we came up the stairs after a long day? We could have been friends, maybe I could have watered your plants when you went away on business or perhaps we could have shared a drink or a conversation or a meal? Maybe we would have become good friends? Maybe you would have drawings from my children on your fridge? Instead, you called the landlord and complained. We will leave, but there is no guarantee. Trust me neighbors—-I hear when you pee. The problem isn’t my kids, it is the paper thin walls and your inability to open to the possibility of friendship and relationship with the people you live with. Instead of sitting with the discomfort of the noise of children and a family and leaving open a space for the miracle to happen, these individuals closed off to the potential.
This holiday season, as we approach the darkest and longest night of the year, I invite you to examine the places where you feel most challenged and see if there is a small space that you might be able to create for miracles to happen. Is there someone at work that frustrates the bajeebus out of you? Do they love Star Wars movies? Just go out and get them a Star Wars mug and tell them that you know how excited they must be about the moving coming out next week. Just do it. Just reach out and do something nice for that challenging person. Yes, yes please, you can have my room to labor and birth your child. Yes, yes please, you take the cubicle closest to the window because it seems to mean a great deal to you. Yes, yes please, hold my hand as we walk down the street because I want to make space for love. Please touch my face when we kiss and say my name—often. Make cookies for someone. Reach out and make a date to have coffee, to listen, to be present for someone that you don’t know all that well. Make eye contact and say hello. Go buy some crayons so the next time your co-worker has to bring her child to the office because her childcare fell through you can make a kind connection with a child instead of complaining that there really isn’t enough room for three chairs. Help a mom trying to get a screaming toddler into a stroller while balancing a coffee in one hand and an infant across her chest–without judgment. Reach out, offer to hold her coffee and tell her that you think she is doing an AMAZING job. Ask if there is anything else you can do. Listen to a story told even if you kind of wanted to be doing something else. Tell someone how much you love their glossy hair, red coat, Christmas pin, or the sound of their voice. Say out loud that your life wouldn’t be the same if you couldn’t smell their hair or press your face into their neck. Spoon your love at night and be grateful for company when you dream. They won’t always be there, so don’t wait until they are gone to say so. Hold the door, let it be OK that they kind of cut in front of you in line, forgive your friend for being human, let someone know that they did something that changed your life for the better. If anyone says, “Let’s go dancing!”, JUMP at the chance even if you now that you have two left feet and you will look like a fool! Say I love you, even if it makes you feel small because it is the only way you will ever be big.
A Special Note to My Neighbors
To my neighbors, who will never read this because you don’t even know my last name and I don’t know yours because we never even met and so you don’t know that I write a blog and I have no idea what you do for fun or for money. But, just in case you do one day accidentally read this and realize that you personally caused housing instability for a single mom and two very young children, please know that I forgive you. Know that many days I would gladly sell my children to gypsies because they drive me crazy too and I am sure that the noises we made were, at times, truly unpleasant and disruptive. I understand. Really. I also hope that the next person to move into my apartment is a circus professional who gets drunk daily and practices juggling with glass dishes all night long while listening to ACDC and misses catching the dishes every time and then has screaming arguments with their mother in Hungarian over SKYPE so you can hear both sides of the arguments and not understand a word of either. But really, I forgive you. I’m going to take my miracles and go somewhere else and maybe next time you will see the possibilities in your challenges. Maybe. Maybe you’ll get free circus tickets? You just never know people—-you just never know.